Novartis gains rights to personalised immunotherapy approach for treating cancer

Novartis entered into an exclusive global research and licensing agreement with the University of Pennsylvania to develop and market novel cellular immunotherapies using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technologies to treat patients with a variety of cancers, the two parties announced Monday. Under the deal, the drugmaker will contribute $20 million to build the Center for Advanced Cellular Therapies at the university, which will focus on adoptive T-cell immunotherapies.

Early study results released last year showed that the investigational CART-19 therapy, which targets the CD19 protein that is associated with a number of B-cell malignancies, led to sustained remissions of up to a year in two patients with advanced chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). As part of the agreement, Novartis will gain rights to CART-19, as well as future CAR-based therapies developed through the collaboration.

Lead researcher Carl June noted that Novartis was one of three companies to negotiate with the university, adding that the Swiss drugmaker was selected in part because of its experience with the chronic myeloid leukaemia drug Gleevec (imatinib). "I never thought this would happen, that the pharma industry would get into ultra-personalised therapy," June remarked. According to June, the researchers are currently treating one patient a week, although the collaboration with Novartis will help more people receive treatment.

Under the agreement, Novartis will also provide an up-front payment to the University of Pennsylvania, research funding, and milestone payments for the achievement of certain clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones. The university is also eligible to receive royalty payments. In addition to more trials in CLL, the university has also engineered T-cell trials underway for other leukaemias, as well as lymphoma, mesothelioma, myeloma and neuroblastoma.

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